Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Seen From a Different Light

This morning, shortly after the kids left for school, I decided to take Sammy -the lovely mutt -for an earlier than usual walk.

Apparently it had rained earlier this morning as the road and sidewalks were wet but I didn't detect any good old raindrops falling on my head. A bit of a bonus there as it was still a tad on the chilly side.

As we walked down the road, heading towards Peale, I was looking at each of the houses along the way and remembering various things about each of those homes.

Things like how much I miss that the house two doors to the right of my place is now empty and how, when I was a child -through my teenage years -I spent many, many hours in that small house that was home to my best friend, her parents and siblings.

At home, I hated to wash dishes. (Still am not a huge fan of that chore, but sometimes one does have to bite the bullet, ya know. But when I was in high school, I could almost always be found over at that cozy little house, in the kitchen, dish towel in hand, and positioned in between my friend and her older sister as they worked to wash the dishes while tossing barbs back and forth, snapping towels and/or dishrags too, at each other and at me too as I got into the middle of that fray. I doubt I ever mentioned to my Mom the appeal of spending the early evening hours over at that house as I don't think she'd have believed I could have been telling the truth about enjoying that.

But, I did!

One reason I hated washing dishes at home was that it was boring, boring, boring to be responsible for washing, drying and putting dishes away all by myself. No one to pick one, no one to share a joke with or a special secret or just some gossip about others in school or elsewhere.

I'm thinking -and I'm sure I have this only partially right -but doesn't it say something in the Bible about God loving a cheerful worker? Well, something to that effect anyway and let's face it, doing a job that leaves you completely alone to your own devices for entertaining is far from being an enjoyable task.

In my mind's eye, I could see my friend's parents again -moving about, talking, laughing -rarely was one ever in that house but what there wasn't at least one or two -generally a whole lot more -loud, hearty laughs that came from the parents there. Joking, teasing -either one or several of their own children and me too.

All the kind of interactions that rarely took place in my own home, except when one of my uncles and family would come home for a weekend and then, our house bustled with activity and a lot of it was humor from whichever of my uncles was present and whichever of my cousins was there to share in playing a myriad of games.

My Grandma loved it when one -or several -of her children would come home. She reveled in the kitchen, working with my Mom and my aunts to prepare meals for the tribe. She prayed each and every week for one of her sons, or daughters to come home for a weekend visit and then, by late Sunday afternoon, she was praying too for them to hurry up and leave so the house would again return to being peaceful and quiet!

Moving on farther down the street, as I looked up at the houses along the hillside there, I could see, once again, the former occupants that I knew as a youngster. Axel and Freda -the brother and sister who lived in their family homestead. Both quiet, unassuming people -who had two things I dearly loved. One was that they had a telephone and would allow me to come in sometimes and use their phone to call my uncle who lived up in Morrisdale -my Dad's brother -just because I wanted to say hello to him. Freda never denied me access to their phone and never questioned why it was important to me to talk to my uncle. She just always seemed to know, to understand, it was -well it was "just because." The other thing Freda always had too was catalogues -all kinds of catalogues from Sears and Montgomery Ward, Spiegals and Aldens and I loved to look at those catalogues and dream of someday having some of the outfits pictured in them. When those book were outdated, Freda would give them to me so I could then cut out clothes and make them to "fit" my paper dolls so they would be dressed to the nines!

Just beyond Axel and Freda's house was the home of an elderly couple who were very close friends of my Grandparents. I didn't know it as a child -learned this when I started to work on family tree history stuff -but it turns out Elizabeth was actually a cousin of my Grandfather's! Seems my great-great-great grandfather had four wives -not all at the same time -but he had four children to the first wife and one daughter with the second wife, and Elizabeth -our neighbor -was a granddaughter of his via the second wife. Why my Grandpa never ever had mentioned this relationship fact at any time while I was growing up, is beyond me as I'm sure he had to have realized they were cousins. Go figure that one out, huh?

But anyway, Elizabeth and her husband Axel lived in this big old gray house with a great big front porch, complete with a lovely swing where one could sit and enjoy the view overlooking the mountains across the way and watch the people along our street busy themselves with lawn and garden work from spring through fall.

These two people provided a much needed break in the somber atmosphere that pretty much permeated my own abode. They each had a very good sense of humor and both always enjoyed "visiting" with small children, letting the children entertain them and in turn, they frequently entertained me very much when my Grandparents, Mom and I would go down to their house for an evening visit. Elizabeth loved to collect clippings from various newspapers which she found humorous, along with copies she made of many epitaphs from tombstones she had seen when as a young woman she worked as a maid in Philadelphia. She would, at some point during the evening visit, get out her clipping book and read from it these things, laughing all the while she did that!

I don't recall ever going to their house but what, when it came time to have a "bite to eat" -a typical later night Swedish snack tradition -that she would always have these huge molasses cookies, each with a solitary raisin perched in the center as well as some kind of cake to go with a cup of coffee , of which I was also permitted to partake. (Yes, I've been a coffee drinker since early childhood!).Frequently, her cakes would be big, high, springy-light and airy sponge cakes that melted in your mouth too.

I remembered today too as I passed by their old home -which doesn't look quite like it did back then as it has had a good bit of remodeling done to it -the time we were just coming home from having spent a few days at my older aunt and uncle's home up in Jamestown, NY and when we pulled in -in front of our house -the neighbor across the street and brother to Axle -met us, telling us the news that while we were away for those two days, his beloved brother, Axel, had passed away. I think that was the first time I actually saw and that it registered in my mind, an adult man cry -sob, actually.

Axel had previously had a heart attack and was on a very restricted diet -very low salt. And he had been a big fan previously of salt so food with out that substance just caused him to totally lose his appetite. So, in a move to try to perk his appetite up, his doctor had prescribed that he be given a bottle of Porter daily -at least one bottle of a substance that prior to that, had never been permitted in their house, had never before crossed his lips. It was something that didn't build his appetite up greatly but sure did work to make some of the conversations at the "late-nite" coffee/snacks even more fun! (My Grandpa it turns out, very much enjoyed those occasions even more once the Porter was added to the mix!)

In my mind's eye, as I walk past these homes, I can still see the various occupants, I can still hear them -the lilt in some voices, the gruffness in the voice of one elderly lady who lived about 3 doors down from us and of whom I was absolutely terrified! She spoke very little English for openers plus, her voice was very low, very gruff and when she would try to speak to me, it was a mixture of a couple English words, but mostly Slovak, and it came out very gutteral sounding to me. All she had to do was look at me and say "Hello" and I would turn tail and run home in a bit of a panic!

I can still see the smile that the lady who lived at the end of our street, across the road from my great-uncle's home, always seemed to be sporting. I can still see her walking through her yard, slow deliberate steps and that smile as she would call out a friendly "Hello, there!" She was so pleasant, outgoing and always had something nice to say to anyone passing by that you just knew automatically then that God was in his heaven and all was right with the world.

The older I get, as I walk down this road and look around me, more and more, these things come to my mind as I remember things from my childhood and see them once again today.

And all of it makes me so glad I had the opportunity to grow up here, in the house where I live today, with the people who were our neighbors then as well as those who are my neighbors now.

Seen from the light of my memory's eyes, it was then and still is indeed, a beautiful and wondrous sight to behold.


Suldog said...

I think The Lord loves a cheerful GIVER, but giving of yourself in chores would be much the same thing, right?

Catalogues had much more cache in the old days than they do now. Maybe it was because there were fewer of them but they were huge? I remember the Spiegel catalogue always being around our house and sometimes My Mom would let me leaf through it to get some ideas for Christmas. Great warm memory that is!

Sandi McBride said...

these walks down memory lane are so meaningful as we get older, don't you think Jeni? So glad you included me on the walk today

CiCi said...

So many of us are nomads, so it is interesting to know someone who came back to live in the house she lived in as a child. I like hearing about your memories of the neighbors back then, and how they showed their personalities to the children (you and your friends). I have a friend who has lived all her married life in a house one block from where she grew up.

terri said...

I loved this glimpse into your past and being able to "meet" your former friends and neighbors through your memories.

Even though all of my family has moved from the neighborhood in which we grew up, none of us has moved very far. It's still easy enough to drive through the old stomping grounds and see what has changed. Looking back, like you, I remember the homes and people being so much more lively than any of it looks today. I remember a neighborhood full of close-knit friends, a place where we could wander all over without any worries. It's sad to think now how many have moved on or passed on. Nothing ever remains truly the same.